"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose…"

by Katie Pizzuto on April 22, 2009

in Blogs,magazines

I found myself involved in 2 completely separate conversations this week that quickly devolved into me ranting (what a concept) about the current state of both wine blogging and wine journalism. I distinguish the two because, in my not-so-humble opinion, most wine bloggers out there don’t fit into the category I consider to be journalism—these are people that, however passionate and knowledgeable they may be about wine, are not writers by nature. And since you’re in my house now, I’m going to feel free to rant a little more—you know where the door is, if you’re not digging it.

This isn’t about wine blogging ethics, as a lot of posts lately have been in the blogosphere. I couldn’t care less what anyone’s ethics are, and I assume they don’t give a rat’s ass about mine. If bloggers want to take advantage of under-the-table samples, all-expenses-paid trips and wine-soaked ass kissing, good for them! The problem I have with much of what’s out there is that all reviews seem to be about sunshine & daisies. The truth is that most bloggers will NOT post a negative review about a wine. In fact, they’ll even tell you in their ever-eloquent “About Me” pages that they don’t post negative reviews (so if you sent a sample and it wasn’t reviewed, you can bet the farm that they didn’t like it). These bloggers will also tell you that the reason that they won’t do it is that “it’s just not fun” to write about uninspiring wine, or that “there’s no reason to be mean.” I call bullshit squared.

Writing about uninspiring wine is very challenging, particularly if you aren’t a good writer, but damn it it’s HONEST. Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but I don’t believe readers only want good wine recommendations—I believe they also want to know where you think the pitfalls are so they can save themselves the money and disappointment. As for there not being a reason to be mean, honesty doesn’t have to be mean. Granted on this blog it sometimes is, but that’s just me. There simply is NO reason you can’t say, “the wine was lacking in acidity” or “it tasted a bit overripe.” Grow a pair of balls and state your case! Wine, after all, is subjective. You won’t get flogged for having an opinion…although the free-flowing wine samples that get delivered to your door might slow to a crawl, and THERE is the rub. Most wine bloggers write because it’s a passion, not for the big bucks, because there aren’t any. So any free review samples sent their way are a big bonus. Reviewing one of those free samples in a negative light might cause the winery to rethink who gets cut from their mailing list, perish the thought. In fact, I’ve spoken to bloggers who have been banned from tasting rooms because of what they’ve written. Bloggers who fear this type of bullshit retribution have no spine, and on the flip side, wineries that behave like that don’t have the shoulders it takes to bear a little criticism. Shame on both.

Then there’s print journalism. After once submitting a piece for publication, I was told that it needed reworking because it was too personal—precisely the aspect of wine that so many journalists won’t go near…that it’s friggin’ personal. I can think one thing about a wine and you can think another, and neither one of us is right because they’re just opinions…poe-tay-toe, poe-tah-toe. The fact that I’m stating my opinion without apology is something it seems most publications won’t touch, but debating that point with them is about as effective as pissing into the wind. Most wine journalism out there today is simply a regurgitation of facts. What I think my readers enjoy about my writing is that I actually have an opinion. And if they like to see that here, I’d assume they’d like to see more of it in a magazine, but then what do I know…I’m just a writer with a point of view, something apparently foreign to the publishing industry.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey April 22, 2009

I agree with you Katie – if you are reading a review that will indicate something that you might want to purchase only seeing good reviews from that person is very one sided – and with food and drink products they are subjective to the taste buds of the person who has just eaten or drunk it … so be truthful

a person who is making a reputation reviewing any product should never feel they cant say something negative about the product – to do so actually says something about that persons beliefs in their own judgement

also to me that the person who never ever says anything bad might as well just be a mouth piece for companies… and that doesnt necessarily lead to honest and fair reviewing!

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2 Katie Pizzuto April 22, 2009

Thank you, Linsey….”might as well just be a mouth piece for companies” was perfectly stated. Glad to hear that you want to read about both good and bad.

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3 Rob April 23, 2009

Hey Katie,

Here are my thoughts:

First of all, I am not sure how much ass-kissing bloggers are getting from wineries or country image programs. When US bloggers start receiving invitations to visit the first growths, then we might have gotten there, but certainly not yet. I know Alder and Tyler are somewhat at the front and have been offered some perks, but besides them I do not think that there are many other bloggers receiving anything more than a bottle of wine.

Second, I have found that most written publications want to set themselves as being an authority on their subjects. When you boil that down for me it means that a publication should be giving its reader the facts framed in a way that leads to a conclusion. Opinions are fallible. Facts give the attempt to be infallible.

I am not saying your opinion is not valuable and that you are not an expert in the field. I am just saying that a newspaper or magazine is looking to be THE best source of information, not the best source of opinion. That is why there is an Op-Ed section.

Also, a blogger who is blogging just to get samples won’t last. There needs to be a lot of work put into a blog for people to read it. The influential bloggers will be the ones that share insight into the wine world, which is why Tom Wark, Alder, and Tyler are at the front. And when it comes down to it, Alder and Tyler do not share many negative reviews.

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4 Katie Pizzuto April 23, 2009

Hey Rob, thanks for the comments….nice to get an insider’s perspective. What I meant by ass kissing is not anything as grandiose as invitations to first growths, but things as simple as fawning compliments about their blog, their writing, etc. Who wouldn’t soak that up? But believe me, it often comes across as an unveiled hope that flattery will beget flattery.

I simply see no reason that publications can’t include opinions and see their attempts at being “authorities” as the precise problem. If we can agree that wine is not merely something you learn about textbook-style but something you experience, then it begs the question…why not have opinions? Something sensual (of the senses) becomes very clinical without subjectivity. Opinions CAN’T be fallible just by nature of being opinions. Yes, that’s why there’s an Op/Ed section, but that’s reserved for reader’s responses. I can’t see why there has to be a dichotomy between being a source of information and a source of opinion…the two can coexist.

I’m curious to hear from readers, though, as to whether or not they would appreciate hearing negative reviews. I know that Lenn doesn’t shy away from it, nor do I. Just because the wine blogging holy trinity don’t do it, doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for it 🙂

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5 The Wine Commonsewer April 23, 2009

Alder at Vinography says he will not waste his time with negative reviews. I’m OK with that. Espc since I have piles of empty wine bottles with mental and physical notes about each bottle that never ever make it to the keyboard. Since I can’t even get the good reviews written I can understand why somebody would skip the bad reviews altogether.

However, I will pan wines that suck. And I have had people email or comment things like: ‘thanks for the warning’. Sometimes, though, I am more diplomatic than a wine deserves.

Tom Wark isn’t shy about speaking up, on a wide variety of topics. 🙂

I have heard tales of wine bloggers throwing their weight around in tasting rooms. Being obnoxious and demanding. That boorish behavior isn’t going to result in many invites to first growths and makes the rest of us look bad.

And, yes, the passion for wine doesn’t always translate into a passion for prose. Many, if not most, wine blogs are simply uninteresting. I suspect, though, that this is an across-the-board phenom in the blogosphere and not just an affliction unique to wine bloggers.

The truly unfortunate thing is this: almost all of my very favorite wine blogs have gone south because it is just too much work to keep them up.

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6 Brandon M April 23, 2009

I hated this post and think it lacks any real thought. Your words are sophomoric at best.

I’m a “quit blowin smoke up my youknowwhat” kind of person so I love your approach here. I do not agree wholeheartedly with everything as it paints with a very broad stroke, however, it does speak to a great many bloggers and wineries alike. Can’t wait to see what’s around the corner!

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7 Lenn Thompson April 23, 2009

Oh Katie…once again we’re on the same wavelength (no matter how scary that is).

The most important thing, rather than “good” vs. “bad” reviews is HONESTY. Be honest with your readers and you’ll be rewarded.

Yes, some wineries/PR agencies may stop sending you samples if you don’t write a glowing review of their wines, but those aren’t people you want to deal with. They are treating you like shills, not like journalists.

In my opinion, if you’re a blogger and are concerned about the samples “drying up” you’re a loser and should shut down your blog immediately. If you’re worried about getting free wine, you’re not blogging for the right reasons. It makes me sick that some bloggers have openly admitted lately that they are whores for wineries and PR.

Bloggers want to be taken seriously. I don’t think that can be disputed. They talk about the “power” they can have in the marketplace and in the industry, and they are 100% correct. But you know what? Only a certain sub-set are doing things the right way and doing things that will lead to this sort of growth.

Getting back to the possibility of pissing off a winery, it really depends on how they look at you from the start. If they respect you initially, they want your honest feedback. If they think you’re going to say that you love their wines (whether you do or not), they don’t.

Sure, even if they respect yo going in, their egos might be bruised at first, but in time they’ll come to respect you even MORE if you’re honest.

It’s happened to me several times with local wineries.

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8 Rich (SubD) April 23, 2009

I truly beleive that you have to be able to be able to tell it like it is, even if the truth hurts. Good journalism is wrapped in honesty, for the subject and to yourself. Be personal, be positive and/or be negative, be willing to always state your view, otherwise having one doesn’t necessarily mean anthing. Or at least that’s the way I see it.

and IBTL

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9 Coupe 60 April 24, 2009

So I guess all the kind words I have been saying about your blog are not going to pay off for me the way I expected when I announce my new Wine coming out shortly … 🙂

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10 Katie Pizzuto April 24, 2009

LOL, Lou…flattery will get you nowhere! I can be bought, certainly, but it usually involves copious amounts of good chocolate! 😛

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11 Coupe 60 April 24, 2009

Seriously it is funny that you post this as the same debate was going on at eBob (with thanks to Eric L for bringing that to my attention.

http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/showthread.php?t=200356

To me, I could see not talking about an average wine that just about delivered to its price point…But as a reader, I want to know about truly bad wines and maybe even more so truly poor QPRs on the more pricey stuff…If I feel a blogger and I have the same likes and dislikes, I would really want to know what she thinks about a high end wine before I plop down >$50 for it…

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12 Linsey April 24, 2009

bugger! – chocolate – forgot that really nice coffee chocolate while i was in usa – bugger… bollocks!!

oh great debate thread btw – very enjoyable to read

damn… choccy!

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13 Katie Pizzuto April 24, 2009

Yeah, though the debate Parker has going on is basically about him pissing on bloggers altogether. You’ve answered one of my two questions, which was about posting negative reviews…I think more bloggers should take heed of what you’re saying. Readers DO want to know where the poor QPRs are but few are getting them. I promise I will do a post of nothing but bad QPRs soon…promise. Also wonder where you (and other readers) would stand on reading pieces in magazines that are opinionated.

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14 Alleigh April 24, 2009

Great post!

Ultimately, as a blogger, what I care about is that my readers trust me. They may not always agree with my opinion of a wine, but at least they know that I told them the truth about what I think. While my blog is still new, I’ve had several readers e-mail me to ask if I would consider reviewing a particular wine because they’re interested in my take on it. That in itself is probably risky because they may realize that our tastes are not the same, but to me, it speaks volumes about how they value my input—both the positive and the negative.

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15 Coupe 60 April 25, 2009

Katie: Your question on reading opinionated pieces in Magazines is an interesting one. My 1st thought was. Of course I’d love to read an opinionated piece. Especially one that is well written. But then as I started to think about it, there are really 3 categories of articles like this. Subject with an opinion that I share, Subject that I have not really formed a solid opinion on, subject that I disagree with opinion.

The first two subjects, I would definitely read, reread, and possibly even forward some of the better points, but the third article, I might not even get passed the topic. That’s probably not the “ideal” open way to live your life, but it is unfortunately true not just for me but for a lot of people.

In other words, write a strongly opinionated piece that I agree with or something that I don’t know much about (pretty large area there), and I am all over it…

Actually I would read anything you wrote…I’m talking about other writers that I don’t know or like… 😉

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16 Katie Pizzuto April 27, 2009

@Alleigh…I actually don’t want my readers to trust me…until, that is, they get to determine whether or not they have a palate similar to mine! That’s really the only trust you can have. As an example, there are certain people in my life who, when they recommend a restaurant, I know to steer clear of! I know whose tastes are similar to mine and who think a dinner out at Chili’s is quality Mexican cuisine. Trust is subjective as well. I think if your readers realize their tastes differ from yours and they STILL keep coming back to see what you’ve written, then that certainly will speak volumes about how they value your words.

@Coupe…you make a lot of sense. And that’s the problem with opinion is that you’re undoubtedly going to have readers that disagree with you. If they decide to read the article, that’s life! But for christ’s sake, it’s WINE we’re talking about….there will ALWAYS be people who disagree with your opinions, right?!? Yet no one is willing to throw some honesty on a page. Shame.

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17 mydailywine April 27, 2009

The wine blogger ethic debate just won’t go away! Great thing about blogs is that we can write whatever we want. I don’t write negative reviews either. Not because I am afraid of backlash or not receiving future samples (if I didn’t like the wine, why would I want more?). Samples represent maybe 20% of the wine I review on my site.
I write short posts and want readers to go away with something of value…hopefully new information and a wine they might enjoy drinking. That being said, I do review wines that have no technical flaws but are not my personal style either ( which I state in the review).

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18 Ryan April 28, 2009

Stop sending me samples. I get too many and many are not worth the postage to send. That said, why bother with the bad ones? If I review a winery who’s wines are interesting and a few bottles are not worth it or flawed I might mention them then in the context of the whole review, but I’m not going to write about bottle from a winery who still hasn’t discerned the difference between bretty grape juice and actual drinkable wine. No point.

Also we are getting, at least some of us, many more requests for travel, and press trips. Most if not all of these trips though in our experience, have “journalists” from decanter, or other msm wine rags. We mention when we take these trips, but I can tell you I see lots of articles in the main stream press from these same people who take the free flight and hotel, and they often never say anything about it. Do I care, no.

In the end what does it matter? The wine geeks are going to question anything anyone writes anyways. The wine consumer, at least in my experience as a wine retailer is more interested in the label and region, and have no idea what a Parker Point is. And I have yet to find anyone outside of the auction world who actually has been hurt or had their wine world destroyed by a bad writer, or an unethical one.

This is wine. A beverage. A foodstuff.

In the end the experience of drinking it makes it what it is. We should all drop the points, and focus on getting more consumers to explore the wine world. How we do this is up to each of us to do in our own way/style. Lets support those who want to start a blog, and when they do make a mistake, which we often do, help them to correct it, or start a dialog, something that you can’t have with the main stream press and over moderated forums.

Ok, that’s my two cents.

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19 Linsey April 28, 2009

wish people would send me samples …. anything really … chocolate, herbs, new stuff …. chocolate

i really must start a review blog!

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20 Coupe 60 April 29, 2009

Linsey…If I were you I would review high end Automobiles, summer homes, or Diamond Jewelry…

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21 Linsey April 29, 2009

diamond jewellery – now thats an idea – first blog – blue diamonds… big ones 🙂

actually a while back i used to belong to a club that for about £15 you would be sent some brand new high quality chocolates then you had to grade them for the company – not exactly free … more marketing by the company … but damn the chocolates were great

only stopped when vets bills became a preference on my expenses – never went back to it

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